Kayce Anderson, Ph.D. – A Woman Who Rocks the Rockies
For most of her professional life, Glenwood Spring’s Kayce Anderson, Ph.D., was an ecologist happily immersed in scientific research in South America. She spent a third of each year hitchhiking through the mountains of Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, camping out in tiny Quechan villages at 14,000 feet for weeks at a time to collect butterfly and aquatic insect samples to take back to her labs at the University of California at Davis and later, Colorado State. The last time she went, she was six months pregnant with her daughter Blu, now eight years old. “I loved it,” says Anderson. “Being out in the field in Ecuador. I love science. It’s important to me.”
Late in 2013, as funding for Anderson’s CSU-based National Science Foundation project was winding down, a good friend happened to ask her an unusual request: Would she be willing to volunteer to sew some sanitary pads for girls in Kenya? That simple, innocuous query introduced the passionate ecologist to a little-known development issue that ultimately changed the course of her professional life. Anderson delved into the data and learned a stunning fact: Millions of girls in the developing world drop out of school every year once they reach adolescence due to a simple lack of access to a sanitary pad. The disparity in opportunity for girls this figure represented struck her so profoundly, she chose to forego the pursuit of a professorship and dedicate her life to reducing barriers to education experienced by girls.
Anderson’s vehicle for social change is For the Good, a non-profit she founded in 2014 with the help of a fellow scientist and an entrepreneur. Through 2017, the organization partnered with villages in rural central Kenya to supply girls with human rights-based reproductive health education and reusable sanitary pads, good for three years. Health education was as critical to their work as the pads: Girls in these regions are highly vulnerable to pressures for coercive and transactional sex, increasing their exposure to HIV and other health risks. In 2018, For the Good began evolving to address different, larger challenges in a more remote and underserved region of southern Kenya called the Loita Hills, partnering with Maasai communities there to find solutions to the biggest barriers to girls’ education locally. Since 2019, their core programs have focused on activating local leaders to advocate for girls’ education, training young Maasai women interns to identify and enroll out-of-school children, and opening secondary schools in a rural 650-square-mile region that previously had just a single affordable high school.
For Anderson, the mid-course professional shift was exciting but has also meant the loss of something deeply loved.
“For most of my life, I’ve been equally impassioned about education and opportunity as I have by science,” says Anderson. “But I also knew that once I stepped out of that life –– the life of academia –– there was no going back. I was sad to leave science behind because I love it. But I was also excited because it felt like the new work might create something tangible that could really make a difference.”~ Kayce Anderson, Ph.D.
And, the work is making that difference. The organization reached nearly 2000 girls from 25 different rural villages through its initial programs and, since 2019, has helped enroll over 600 children into primary school and start four new secondary schools in a rural 650-square-mile region that previously only had one affordable high school. One of their first steps was to hire a Kenyan staffer, Millicent Garama, who possesses two decades of experience in grassroots community development work focused on girls’ health and water and sanitation issues. The organization’s four additional program staff and eleven current interns are all Maasai, mostly women, and local to the communities they serve. These staff and interns provide critical insights that inform For the Good’s programs and a trusted bridge to the elders and families of local villages. Anderson travels to Kenya to spend time with staff and evaluate the impact of the organization’s programs on girls’school attendance, health, and successful progression onto secondary school.
For Anderson, it’s critical that the work is in large part driven by local communities themselves. The organization is committed to thoughtful, community-driven development work that is in step with the communities’ own capacity to change. They work with villages to transform more systemic barriers to girls’ education including poverty, infrastructure challenges and patriarchal cultures that have historically valued girls’ education less than those of boys.
“There’s a time element to that process of building human capacity and buy-in, and there’s simply no shortcut to that,” says Anderson.
“We have a lot of big problems to overcome, yet we’re excluding the potential brain power of a significant percentage of the world to solve them when we exclude girls living in rural, impoverished regions from the opportunity to gain an education. We also realize that to truly see the transformation that we want to see, it’s going to take a change in the larger mindset of the community. I feel like we’ve found our niche, our role and our pathway. I feel very confident in our approach.”
For the Good’s work is currently primarily funded by individual donors. Financial gifts of any size are incredibly meaningful to the organization and allow them to continue their work and increase the impact they are having in one small corner of the world! www.forthegood.org.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared in Mountain Town Magazine’s – 4th Annual Women Who Rock the Rockies issue. The above article was slightly updated in 2022 to reflect changes in For the Good’s programs in Kenya. To learn more about their current work, be sure to catch our upcoming print edition of Mountain Women Magazine.
Photos and Story by Kate Lapides
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